I’ve spoken before about why you need a content strategy, but the thought of coming up with one can be overwhelming if you’ve never done it before or have no idea where to start.
I feel you.
When I first started working in the online world, I had no idea what made a good blog post or what a content strategy even was.
I basically published what I thought I should be publishing: quick, 300-word posts that didn’t really have any depth to them. Everyone else was doing it, so shouldn’t I be doing it, too?
But the results were dismal.
No one was reading my blog, no one was signing up to my email list, and absolutely no one was hiring me, buying from me, or even enquiring about my services.
So what did I do?
I decided to work on my content strategy, but before you go ahead and do the same, here are three things you should know before you settle down to put plan into action.
Now I make sure all my posts are aligned with what my audience want and need.
How will you know what to write about if you don’t know what your audience wants?
This is the absolute first step in creating a content strategy that actually works, and it’s the thing that meant I kept pumping out mediocre content in the early days of my blog.
Knowing who your audience is means you know exactly what their pain points are and what they need the most help with. As soon as you can identify their problems, you can then provide a solution to those problems with your content.
So how do you get to know your audience?
There are some steps you can take to figure out this information.
First of all, you want to get specific with who you’re targeting. That means being a lot more laser-focused than simply saying “I want to target 18-35 year old women.
Think of all the different life stages those women are in and the difference between an 18-year-old woman who’s just started university and a 32-year-old stay at home mum with 3 kids under the age of 7. They’re going to have completely different interests and problems that need solving, so trying to cater to all of them will actually mean you’re catering to none of them.
Think About Who You Can Help
Next, you want to consider exactly who you can help with your service or product. It’s likely what you sell won’t appeal to everyone, so consider whose problems it actually will solve.
For example, if you’re selling cheap, quick-cook recipes, chances are you’re more likely to have success selling to a student audience as opposed to businesspeople who have a bit more money to spend on their cooking habits.
If All Else Fails… Think of a Specific Person
When you know exactly who you’re targeting and their problems, you’re able to tweak your whole business to fit around that. It fuels the wording you use on your website and it fuels how and where you connect with your audience.
If all else fails and you really struggle to hone in on a specific target audience, you can always come up with a “brand character”.
This is a person who fits your demographic targeting; they have a name, an age, a job, hobbies, and any other characteristics you think your target audience would have. You can even get a picture of someone to give this person a face.
Then, whenever you have something to write or you need to communicate with your audience in some way, you can bring this specific person to mind and pretend like you’re speaking directly to them.
2. What Your Audience Want
When you know who your audience is (and we’re talking really, truly know who your audience is), you can find out what they want and give them exactly that - people like getting what they want, if you didn’t know already.
So, you’ve got your specific person in mind, now it’s time to figure out what problems they have and what help they’re looking for (so that you can provide it with your content).
There are a couple of ways you can do this, with each method varying in the amount of effort and research you need to put in.
There’s a great tool called BuzzSumo (free, but you’re limited to three searches a day) where you can search for a certain phrase (i.e. “content marketing” if you’re a brand that offers content marketing) or a brand URL. Both times, the tool comes back with the most popular posts in that category (either on the brand URL or the phrase) within a certain timeframe, which you can set yourself.
People tend to search for things they need help with.
Think about it this way: how often do you head over to Google to search something like “how to cook a curry” or “what is a penguin?”.
Once you know who your audience are and what they’re looking for, you want to start providing answers to some of the biggest questions they have. But how do you go about finding this out?
You can use forums and sites like Quora and Reddit.
These sites bring together top questions (and answers) from people in a variety of different areas (or subreddits, as they’re called on Reddit).
You can search for your industry or a specific term or phrase and see what kind of questions your target audience are asking around that. Then, you can start crafting posts and content that answer these questions.
This might seem super simple, but it often gets overlooked. One of the best ways you can figure out what your audience want is by actively asking them.
Find 3-5 brands or consumers that fit your target audience (or set up a questionnaire via a tool like SurveyMonkey) and ask them a short set of questions that covers the kind of things they want to see.
Don’t use this as an opportunity to sell. Instead, think of it as market research and finding out specific things your audience want from you.
3. Who You’re Up Against
I mentioned earlier that you can check out what posts are popular on your competitors’ sites, but you can take that one step further.
Part of marketing means getting your positioning right in your industry, and to do that you need to know who else is out there doing the same kind of thing as you.
Now, you probably have an idea about who your top three or so competitors are, but it’s time to dig a bit deeper than that.
Ask yourself these questions about each of them:
All of this information will fuel how you make sure you stand out in your industry. For example, you can use your Unique Selling Point to create blog posts that educate your audience (but that’s for a whole other blog post another time).
So, before you even think about settling down and creating your content strategy, make sure you know these three key things. Figuring them out shouldn’t take too long if you follow the steps I’ve given you.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start laying down your strategy and thinking about what kind of content you want to create.
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Lizzie Davey is a professional business and marketing writer.